PHOENIX — Take a bow, Scott Huff, for having what might be the best game plan of this bowl season.
No. 11 Washington (10-2) is without former offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith, who left the program to become Oregon State’s head coach. Smith’s departure means Huff and fellow assistant Matt Lubick will call plays against No. 9 Penn State (10-2) on Saturday in the Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
“If the game goes good, then I can take some credit,” Huff said. “But if it doesn’t go good, then, it’s all on Lubick and he can really enjoy that.”
Lubick, who was within earshot of Huff, comically rolled his eyes at the comment.
Jokes aside, the partnership itself is pretty straightforward. UW isn’t going to rip up its playbook and try something new. Huff and Lubick will continue to mix the passing game and rushing attack in an effort to get points against one of the toughest defenses in college football.
Penn State is seventh in scoring defense, with opponents averaging 15.5 points per game. The strength of the Nittany Lions comes in defending the run. They’re 15th nationally against the ground game.
Overall, they are the No. 17 defense and the third top-20 unit the Huskies will play this season.
“The neat thing about the way we game plan all year long is everybody’s involved,” said Lubick, who is UW’s co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach. “So when you lose a coach, which was a great opportunity for him, everyone’s responsibility just goes up a notch.
“Everyone rises to the occasion and took it up a notch.”
Taking over the offense caps what has been an interesting year for Huff and Lubick.
Huff, who is the team’s offensive line coach and run game coordinator, is in his first season. He came to UW from Boise State where he worked with Huskies coach Chris Petersen for eight seasons.
Lubick is also in his first year at UW after spending last season at Oregon as the offensive coordinator. Before, he was Oregon’s receivers coach and passing game coordinator.
Together, they have the experience of understanding all the nuances of an offense.
“I think Coach P has done a great job of surrounding himself with a bunch of good guys,” Lubick said of the staff. “We all get along. We’re friends at work. We’re friends away from work, too. That makes it easy.”
Huff and Lubick have used the past month to develop and refine plays and personnel within the offense.
UW’s offense, from a scoring standpoint, is technically one of the best. The Huskies are scoring 36.9 points per game and that’s 16th out of 130 Football Bowl Subdivision teams. Their 58 touchdowns rank 23rd best.
If there’s been a criticism among fans and pundits, it’s the team’s struggles in the passing game compared to last season.
Washington has the No. 72 passing offense. A year ago, the team was 40th when quarterback Jake Browning threw for 3,340 yards and 43 TDs. Browning enters the Fiesta Bowl with 18 touchdowns yet is completing a career-best 68.8 percent of his passes while tossing a personal low five interceptions.
After losing receiving targets like Hunter Bryant, Chico McClatcher and Quinten Pounds to long-term injuries, the Huskies pivoted the offense.
UW opted to take a more run-heavy approach, which led to running back Myles Gaskin averaging more than 120 yards and scoring 11 touchdowns in four of the team’s final five games.
It’s an approach that Petersen is comfortable with and one that he thinks will continue to be successful, even with a different play-caller.
“As far as Matt, kind of the way we game plan anyways, everybody has sections,” Petersen said. “Scott Huff has been the mastermind behind the run game, protections, the whole year.
“And then you put those different plays into sections of the game plan … so between the two of them, yeah, we’ll make it work.”
Huff and Lubick will call plays for the Fiesta but the reins will be handed to Bush Hamdan going into next season. A former UW assistant, Hamdan returns after spending a season with the Atlanta Falcons as their quarterbacks coach.
But as for Huff and Lubick, they’ve gone over film to determine the team’s best plays of the season and will work them into the overall plan of attack.
“We’ve been pretty much the same. Coach Pete has filled in for some of the stuff Jonathan did, in terms of quarterback meets and whatnot,” Huff said. “Coach Lubick has definitely took on more. I think we’ve all took on a little bit more.
“I wouldn’t say anything’s drastically different. That’s really not the case.”